By Evan Ackerman
Crows, along with parrots (like Alex, may he rest in peace) are working hard to disprove the whole “bird brain” epithet. Researchers from Oxford University have been studying crows in the wild to see how they make and use tools, and to keep up with them, they’ve fitted the birds with tail-mounted miniature wireless cameras that peek between the birds’ legs. The cameras weigh only 14 grams each, run for 70 minutes at a stretch, and are shed safely when the bird molts. The first clip below shows one of Oxford’s captive New Caledonian crows (her name is Betty) modifying a tool in order to retrieve a piece of food. The second clip is a series of videos taken by one of the Crow Cams, including flying, snail eating, tool use, and picking fruit. Remember as you watch that the camera is positioned underneath the crow, looking forward.
So what’s so special about crows? Well, there are only a small number of animals that use tools (on the order of 20, according to Wikipedia). However, there is a substantial cognitive difference between tool using and tool making. As far as I know (off the top of my head), the only animals that construct or modify tools for use in the wild are primates and crows.
A bit more about my personal experience with crows (or rather, ravens) after the jump.
This picture is of yours truly feeding Stark, an imprinted raven who lives at the Oregon Zoo (Stark raven, get it?). Stark has been trained to recycle: without supervision, he is able to pick up soda cans, fly them over to a recycling bin, and drop them in. As with most highly intelligent animals, Stark has quite a personality, and while he was more than happy to sit on my hand and stuff his face, as soon as the food was gone he bit me. Over and over. Ow.
If you’re interested in learning more about how smart corvids are, I highly recommend Bernd Heinrich’s book Mind of the Raven. More generally, I’d also suggest David Attenborough‘s spectacular BBC documentary The Life of Birds. If you haven’t seen this, do so immediately.
[ Crow Cams ]